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Workplace Safety and Consumer Affairs – Chainsaw Regulation

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Monday, 5 June 2023

Tags: Coronial Inquest, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR – Attorney-General, in 2017 coroner Simon Cooper recommended a suite of regulatory changes around chainsaw deaths following six chainsaw related deaths. The only response he's received in the five years since his findings was 'a lengthy explanation as to why one government department is apparently not responsible to respond to recommendations'. That's Simon Cooper's own words. Coroner Cooper's recommendations were supported by coroner McTaggart and were reiterated this year after another chainsaw related death.

In response to this recommendation, a state Government spokesperson said -

We're absolutely committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Tasmanians. We'll carefully consider the coroner's findings as we always do.

Is six years not enough time to consider the coroner's findings and what specifically is being done in relation to these recommendations?

Ms ARCHER - The front page of my notes encapsulates what you've said so I'm not going to parrot that off.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you.

Ms ARCHER - It won't answer the question. All it will do is restate the question. The use of a chainsaw isn't linked to one specific occupation or trade. I think that can be agreed.

As this is the case, it cannot be effectively regulated through occupational licensing conditions or under the Tasmanian building framework. Given chainsaws are used by both commercial and private operators - I understand these were private operators – education and further training is seen as the most appropriate and effective means of improving safety when using chainsaws.

CBOS will engage at the national level to work toward improved safety for all chainsaw operators. That part of CBOS. Worksafe Tasmania, however, does not have any powers to act in places that are not work places. In fact the law requires them to leave those places.

I mentioned that because in the examples cited, they were private operators. There's the difficulty we have there and I think that's what's been identified by the coroners when a department has given a reason as to why they're not responsible. That's a rather blunt way of putting, 'The law requires Worksafe Tasmania to not be involved'.

It's a difficult situation when it's private operators. I'm getting the nod from Workplace Tasmania.

Ms O'CONNOR - I guess there's an interaction between your role as Justice minister, the minister responsible for workplace health and safety legislation in relation to the coroner's recommendations. There does seem to be a feeling coming back from the Coroners Court that it's taking the Government too long to respond to recommendations that they make, not just in the report I asked you about, but in a range of reports.

Ms ARCHER - It's a difficult one because what type of reform do you make other than, education and training awareness? I'm not a regular chainsaw user but I'm sure there are a lot of safety mechanisms.

Ms O'CONNOR - There's about two on a chainsaw.

Ms ARCHER - Right. Perhaps it's a manufacturer regulation thing, it might be a national level thing. Rather than me flounder, I'll ask Robyn Pearce from Worksafe Tasmania. I'm sure you have more knowledge of that than me as to where it might fit.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thanks, Mrs Pearce. It also interacts with consumer protection too because people buy chainsaws -

Ms ARCHER - It does. That's why I said CBOS can engage on a national level.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, and not know how to operate them. There doesn't seem to be anything in place that gives people the basic training of operating a chainsaw.

Ms ARCHER - I think that's more the case here. It's education, training and awareness. Like with all things, unless you make it compulsory, some people perhaps will never do it.

Ms O'CONNOR - Is it fair to say that the recommendations that have been put forward by the coroner - sorry, Ms Pearce - in relation to those six chainsaw related deaths, are you saying in your view that those recommendations are not applicable, or they not able to be implemented?

Ms ARCHER - I will seek some further in relation to each one on what might be able to be done in terms of either a CBOS response, Worksafe, or in my broader Justice portfolio. I have a feeling it is probably more complex than and requires national intervention. I might give Ms Pearce an opportunity to address that also, because she might be able to fill in a few blanks for us.

Ms PEARCE - In a workplace context, the risks that are associated with chainsaw use are well-known and well-recognised within the industry. In fact, chainsaw incidents don't feature highly in the incidents that we receive anymore. The risks around the use of the machine, the safety cut-off switch, the use of personal protective equipment, doing a risk assessment and understanding the behaviour of trees as they are being felled.

A new forest safety code was approved by the minister last year. That was redeveloped by the in recognition of the advances in the knowledge and understanding about safety within the forest industry. It has been published pretty widely by Private Forests Tasmania, which led the review of that code with industry partners. Workers and unions were invited to participate as well.

The code says that in order to use a chainsaw safely, a person should hold the relevant competency for the complexity of the tree to be felled; also hold a competency called FWPHAR3209, which is harvest trees manually advanced, so that if you're felling trees, which are known as being hazardous, you're able to take into consideration the particular hazardous nature of those trees; undertake a complete reassessment with a registered training organisation every three years; follow safe work practices such as those set out in Australian Standard 2727 1997, which is a chainsaw's guide to work practices; ensure equipment is maintained, including the safety features of the chainsaw, including the handguard and chain break; carry felling equipment, including an axe or a suitable-sized hammer, lifting and holding wedges suitable for the trees to be felled, a two-way communication device, wound dressings, chainsaw fuel, and oil in approved contains, and using the personal protective equipment that is suitable for the task being carried, such as a helmet and eye protection and maintaining that PPE.

Those are reasonably standard conditions one would expect. Given the knowledge around chainsaws and the risks, we would expect that people would be accessing the well-known guidance in that industry.

Ms O'CONNOR - That might be too high an expectation to place on the broader public, but thank you Ms Pearce.

Attorney-General, this goes to my previous question. A number of times coroners release reports with recommendations, and then they just go into the Never-Never, like this one apparently has. There will be a whole range of reasons for that. Coroners complain that a number of their reports are not appropriately responded to by government. Are you willing to consider reforms, potentially legislative, that place more of an onus government at least to acknowledge and respond, and if there's a reason that they can't implement recommendations to give those reasons?

Ms ARCHER - I know what you're getting at. I like to think that within my department when a recommendation is made we make that initial comment because it's impossible to make any sort of fulsome comment at that stage without having seen the -

Ms O'CONNOR - Fulsome means insincere. You mean full.

Ms ARCHER - Oh, okay. Full. Right. Thank you. Without the ability to consider it fully, that's why we acknowledge it and we'll look at it further.

When I think it does require some legislative consideration or reform, I'd like to think it doesn't disappear into the Never-Never within my department. What happens is it gets diverted through to SLP - the Strategic Legislation and Policy Unit - where all of my legislative reform sits.

I put that on a list and it basically gets dealt with in my weekly meetings on how things are progressing, et cetera. Things always get prioritised in order of urgency with our legislative program or complexity, as you would appreciate. I would like to think when it touches in my area it gets done.

I think the difficulty arises when it is across agency, and it may not get picked up by one lead agency, perhaps. Maybe that is what is happening.